restricted to a short local walk because of the weather, the traffic and good old cant be arsed, I find myself discussing the often overlooked bit of kit: the humble sock.
Like most people, I have probably tried over a dozen different types of socks over the years to find that perfect walking variety. From merino to full synthetic to wool/synthetic mixes to cotton (!). From short to calf length to knee length. From thin to thicker to thick and from single layer to double layer or double pair. Ok so its probably more than a dozen but in my defence I only use one type of sock now and have done exclusively for the past few years.
Yes, they are warm. Yes, they are comfy. But they dont like washing machines (even when careful) they are expensive and in my experience dont last very long. I find thin ones dont give enough “spongey” support to the balls of the feet and thick ones makes my feet sweat. A lot of people get on with them but for me 100% merino is a great concept but a let down in reality. Merino is more comfortable than ordinary wool but more expensive and equally prone to wearing out.
Yep, guilty m’lud. First thing anyone ever tells you is dont wear (100%) cotton socks (or anything mainly cotton for that matter) in the outdoors. I did in my youth and they did ok-ish but they are far too thin to provide comfort and really bad when wet. When used in a mixed material sock, cotton can actually work as long as it isnt the majority material (in my experience).
Ok, here we have a huge choice. There are trademark sythetic socks out there such as Coolmax and the like or your more bog standard polyester type socks. These days most synthetic socks are a blend of several materials including nylon, polyester, polypropelene and Lycra amongst others.
Synthetic/natural material mix
Ok, here’s the daddy! Obvious when you think about it. A little bit of wool (normally merino) for warmth, a little bit of lycra for fit, a little bit of cotton for comfort and a little bit of polyester for wet weather/wicking. The majority of socks these days use a mix of synthetic and natural materials and hey presto it really works for me. Of course, like any mix, its a compromise but for me the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. The only mistake with any sock is not to buy very cheap as they will often (but not necessarily always) be inferior
For me, medium length is a good all round performer even in winter. I have tried short length “ankle” socks and they just dont feel natural and besides which medium socks can be (gasp) pushed down! Long socks that hit the knee are too restrictive for me and besides which I am still having nightmares from seeing those who insist on tucking their trousers into long bright red walking socks!
Single or double layer?
Some people swear by the sock liner in addition to their normal walking sock, others put great store in the special double layer socks you can buy (1000mile socks are one of a few manufacturers of this type of sock). The supposed reasoning is that they help prevent blisters (amongst other things). Ok I get the principle of two layers helping to reduce the friction on the skin from the shoe pressure points (heel area, ball area, ankle area) but it doesnt work for me. I use strategically placed zinc oxide tape to the vulnerable bits of my feet and this really works. I tried to use double skinned socks a while back but the constant bunching of the material in the toe of the shoe nearly drove me insane(r)! To me better fitting shoes, good single layer socks and zinc oxide tape works best.
A bit of a odd one to categorise this one. Some socks, especially the “technical” ones (X-bionic springs to mind amongst other) have different panels relating to a different function. Some panels are stretchy where joint articulation is, other panels have higher thickness for comfort and other panels still have better wicking/ventilation properties. I am not convinced having had a couple of pairs. They are hideously expensive, suffer badly in the washing machine and for me a bit too thin if that makes sense for long distance walking. Again, its a personal choice and others really rate them (MTB riders for instance).
So there you have it, a few rambling thoughts on the humble sock. And what is my prefered weapon of choice? Bridgedale Light Hiker. Yes, perhaps I should get a bobble hat to go with the image of olde style walking socks but I actually find Bridgedales are pretty up to date in the material and the design of their socks. The Light Hiker is a good compromise of length, material thickness and ability to cope with cold/warm/wet/dry conditions over long distances. And no I am not being paid/rewarded or given freebies by them to say that!
The choice is yours but get it wrong and no matter how good your footwear is, you will suffer. And as we all know, suffering leads to the dark side……….!